issue 4: spring 2002

> Ricco Villanueva Siasoco

The Foley Artist

          Berong lived in a two-bedroom apartment above a retail store that sold pornography in West Hollywood. Because he had spent his life adding sound effects to motion pictures - cushioned footfalls on parquet floors, any number of seagulls and crashing waves on boardwalks, the turbulent construction noises and traffic of a midtown avenue in Manhattan - he cared little for the winsome tones of the human voice. Dialogue would never hold as much resonance as, say, five carefully-placed elevator pings. At one time in his life, when he was younger than his 79 years, he'd obliged in small talk, engaging a chatty makeup girl he soon married. Their daughter was born in 1972. But impatient with his wife's pleading and the selfless demands of domesticity, Berong soon walked out. One night, moved by drink and an unfamiliar longing for others, he telephoned his former wife's home and asked to speak with their child. She informed him the teenager had run off with a long-haired musician, then hung up. Berong sat alone in a dingy Chinatown hotel, the receiver limp in his hand, watching a hairy centipede scuttle around the one-toed sandal on his left foot. Instead of the harsh bleating of the telephone, he wanted to foley a more evocative click.

     Though he had lived there for 22 years, he had never set foot in the succession of stores below his apartment. A medical supply store when he moved in, the space had gone through multiple reincarnations, at various times a lunch counter, a busy pawn shop, and now a store that sold pornography. When he was working, Berong was infrequently in the apartment, traveling from editing suites to home to crowded docks with his Nagra, to record the lazy hum of the crowd or the blare of a barge horn as it pulled away from shore. At times, moved by sudden impulse, he would open his eyes, turn off his Nagra, and watch the crowd drift and bottleneck. Once retired, his habits were inverted and he spent most of his days in his apartment. He sold his car and rode the bus to the grocery store, the public library, and a well-stocked video store near Paramount owned by a Filipino.

     Berong's parents were dead, his two older brothers were in a far province of Ilocos, and the person most familiar with him was Manolo, the Filipino video store owner, formerly a property master who had worked with Berong on a small-budget film called "Night of Desire." A friendly but not gregarious person, Manolo called Berong "padre" and often invited him to his home to celebrate holidays and his children’s birthdays. But, because Berong never accepted, Manolo, deciding the elderly Filipino a snob, stopped extending his invitations.

     One wet afternoon Manolo and Berong quarreled over the older man's account, Manolo accusing Berong of unpaid fees. Certain he was in the right, Berong walked out of the video store and selected a Blockbuster in West Hollywood, resolving never to call on Manolo again.

     Several days passed. Berong watched Telemundo and Technicolor westerns with the volume turned off and the loud engine of a bus or the heavy bass rhythm of a car speaker drifting through his window. One morning he scanned his large video library, selected a film in Italian, and went to his VCR and inserted the videotape. The VCR would not play. Berong unplugged the machine and tinkered with it. Unwilling to consult Manolo at the video repair shop, he hobbled downstairs to the pornography store in hopes of purchasing a new VCR.


     Inside the store, a lanky red-haired man who seemed more like a golfer than a clerk, hummed to himself behind a high counter. His plain nametag read Mick. Mick glanced at the older man, then returned to his adult magazine. Berong inquired about purchasing a VCR. The clerk laughed.

     "Can you please order me one?" Berong asked.

     "Try a fucking department store," Mick replied. Two middle-aged men in cut-off jeans whispered behind Berong. Mick repeated to Berong that he didn't have what he wanted.

     "You should care about your work," said Berong, and left.

     He went upstairs and sat in a sagging armchair. Air from the cushions escaped slowly. Berong imagined crisp metal springs instead. He stood and went into the kitchen. He could ride a bus to the shapeless shopping mall near the Pacific Coast Highway, but discerning the simplest route seemed exhausting. He opened a drawer near the sink and found a business card with Manolo’s phone number. He went to his phone in the living room, lifted the receiver, then replaced it again. He would not call the disrepectful young man.

     The next morning Berong again entered the windowless shop. He stepped to the counter and asked Mick to order his VCR.

     Mick slurped noodles with two chopsticks from a pint-sized container. "It's not going to happen," said Mick.

     "Please, I live upstairs."

     "What do you want from me?" Mick asked. "Find someone else to harass."

     Berong said, "I'm asking so little."

     Mick hooked a finger into his ear and dug around. He sighed. In the concave mirror hung in one corner, he glanced a trio of young men touching the CD-ROMs. One CD clattered out of its package to the ground. Berong stared at him.

     "Here's a coupon for a free rental. Just go."

     Berong watched the clerk slide the yellow coupon across the counter. He remained standing in place. The dollar-sized coupon was neither the video player he desired nor a suitable replacement. For a second he wondered if the sound of the paper sliding across the counter could be mimicked with sandpaper on a hollow plywood door. It was habit, the residue of his life work. Most of everyday life could be replaced with something more evocative.

     Berong stared at Mick's gaunt eyes above him, the young man's exasperation as obvious as the resolve he now felt. He took the yellow coupon, placed it in his shirt pocket, and sat on the sticky tile floor. Puzzled, Mick stood and peered over the edge of the tall counter.

     The clerk pleaded with Berong for several minutes but the old man would not move. His back was straight and his eyes were closed as if he were meditating. Mick reached below the counter, placed a black telephone on top, and phoned the West Hollywood police. To Berong, the dialing sounded like the keys of a synthesizer being played. Within the hour two officers, their blue metal sunglasses perched like headbands, arrived. One officer spoke with Mick and the younger, more rotund one crouched and murmured to Berong. The old man sat with his eyes closed and said nothing. Finally they lifted Berong, legs crossed like a pretzel, by his elbows and carried him from the store. They placed him on a vacant bus stop bench. Mick tended to the remaining customers and then followed Berong and the police officers outside.

     Staring at the vacant lot across the street, Berong would not tell the officers where he lived. Mick, too, listened but did not speak.

     When the officers stepped to their patrol car to confer, Mick bolted the shop and climbed the creaky stairs to Berong's apartment. The door was unlocked. On a table beside the telephone, Mick saw Manolo’s card. He called the video store owner and explained the situation. Within the hour, Manolo parked his SUV in front of the bus stop. The officers left Berong in the younger man’s care.

     "Let's go upstairs, padre," said Manolo. A fly buzzed around Berong's collar.

     "Maybe somebody died," said Mick, crouching in front of Berong, who was still seated on the bench.

     Berong stared past the littered, four-lane street. Behind a wire fence he saw the skeleton of a school bus, sickly trees, and weeds sprouting from the cracks in the pavement. He heard the rustle of palm trees in the provinces of his youth.

     "I'll help you, Berong," Manolo said.

     Berong saw a small bird hop across the roof of the bus. I'll help you, he thought, flinching, for he had always considered himself an independent man. This phrase he associated with his ex-wife, her meek voice repeating it time and again before he left. I'll help you, padre, he heard once more, and it seemed the most pathetic sound a voice could utter. Help, he simplified, watching the small bird jump down and hop across the weeds.

> Ricco Villanueva Siasoco



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